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Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle in Fussen, Germany

By on Jun 12, 2011 in Germany | 0 comments

I woke up early on my final day in Prague and headed to the station to board my train to Munich in Germany. Selecting a seat on board  my carriage, which formed part of my old Russian mule, I was joined by an elderly German lady and her son who was returning from visiting her daughter. After the normal half and hour of the usual quiet tension with the advice from my English family to “never mention the war”, I managed to strike up an eye opening conversation. What was to come was an amazing six hours of history and different perspectives. This elderly lady told me how she fled to America during World War II to hide from the Nazis and how she had made her new home in America. She then went on to explain how a nation has learned to come to grips with a history that was so violent and unjust. A history that even though she was against, she still felt guilty for. The mother was very gracious and offered me a great lunch of cheese and salads. On arriving into Germany I had a whole new perspective and again, which I have stated many times before, my pre conceived perceptions were wrong. I said goodbye to my fantastic German Mother who gave me her address details in case I ran into any trouble during my journey and headed into the mass of Munich’s main station. Instantly the atmosphere of Munich was that of a fun and vibrant city entrusted with German values however with an un-German easy going lifestyle. I strolled out of the main station and headed to the Wombats Hostel just across the road. It was a funky hostel with great facilities, in an excellent location and to my likingm had a fat bottomed Aussie animal for its emblem. I spent the remaining evening chilling out in the big beanbags and soaking up the eclectic atmosphere of the hostel. The next morning I woke up early (not by choice, but from a guy snoring above me who sounded like a launching space shuttle) and headed to the train station to buy a ticket to the Neuschwanstein Castle in Fussen. The train journey took a couple of hours before jumping on board a bus to the village of Hohenschwangau. Once you arrive at this quaint village, head up the hill a short way to buy your ticket for Neuschwanstein. There wasn’t any clear direction to the counter but it’s there. After purchasing my ticket to the castle that inspired Sleeping Beauty’s pad at Disney, I decided in my infinite wisdom to walk to the castle. You’d think I’d learn from my past mistakes wouldn’t you? The hike was great but strenuous and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who has young kids or to anyone why generally doesn’t like walking. The buses and horse buggies also provide a viable option. My tour of the castle was booked in for a late session, so I continued to hike to the iconic bridge that overlooked this inspiring castle and my breath was taken away. The castle was something out of a fable and I instantly realised that King Ludwig the III really was mad. The castle was whimsical and ornate in detail. The location was set upon a cliff looking over Bavaria with the Alps nestled behind it, reminding me that no matter the splendor of what mankind builds, nature is always superior. Once I got to the suspension bridge I decided I wanted more and again my lack of judgment led  the way. I decided to climb up the side of the cliff, which if I was to fall would certainly mean my death. However the view from the top was nothing like I had even seen. Lakes surrounded by mountains, snow capped peaks, fresh water lakes and distant lands that time had forgotten. I stood upon the cliff’s edge and just shouted till the air left my lungs. It was a moment of realisation that I had finally made it on my journeys. A moment that nothing mattered, not careers, money, war, conflict – just the fact that this was what travelling is all about – that feeling when you get somewhere that is important to you. After this amazing climb I headed for the castle to complete my tour. The interior of the castle itself was impressive, with swan ornaments lining tap handles to opulent artworks lining the castle’s walls. However it was all let down by the tour with the rather lackluster guide droning on, with her spiel sounding like it came straight out of a guide book. Which is a pity because this castle could of been presented in a really exciting manner. I could see in my tour guide’s disdained eyes that she felt it was a sacrilege that tourists were pouncing their way around this cultural and historical wonder. The rest of the afternoon was spent searching the various alleyways of Fussen before boarding my train back to Munich. What an amazing start to my time in Germany and I knew that tomorrow wouldn’t be any different. I woke up early on my final day and headed off to the station to catch my 6-hour train trip to Munich, Germany. I boarded my compartment in my old Russian mule and got comfortable. About 10mins later a German woman and her...

The Fairytale City of Prague

By on May 30, 2011 in Czech Republic | 0 comments

I awoke in the morning feeling recharged and relaxed for the first time on my trip, grabbing some toast on the run I headed to the outskirts of Prague. The views over the city were amazing and the cool but sunny day was refreshing. After many hours of walking I ended up at Prague castle or Hradcany Castle as it is known. The castle was built around 800AD and was once home to the royal family however is now home to the president of the Czech Republic. The cathedral within the centre of the compound, St Vitus Cathedral, has impressive views from the top with a sorted array of artwork, typical of Catholic origins. The remaining complex housed various cobbled street alleys and souvenir stores, typical of many castles within Europe. However this was one of the most magical castles I had seen on my journey so far.     I continued on from here strolling the various streets along the North bank. With the many marionette and craft stores I felt like I had stepped back into medieval times where Knights were Knights and true craftsman perfected their skill. With so many Baroque churches and cathedrals it was easy to feel the presence of religion on this city. The beautiful art work and architecture that was evident at every corner was intoxicating however definitely not suffocating. Once I completed my walk on the northern side I knew it was time to approach the one attraction that I was eagerly awaiting, the Charles Bridge.     Upon crossing the bridge my breath was taken away! The statues of the various saints, the views of the old town, the dominance of the overlooking castle, the striking bridge gates and moody weather above were a sight to behold. I had truly entered a fairytale world and something that I can not explain except to say this is a must see! Various local characters were playing music and dancing with marionettes and friendly art work sellers dotted the bridge, it was forever fascinating. However do not expect to share this moment by yourself, as the hundreds of other people around you will also be awe struck at exactly the same thing you are seeing. I just stood there for an hour taking as many photos as I could, trying with all hope to be able to create the atmosphere on film, however I honestly failed. This would be the first of many trips to this bridge over the four days in Prague.     After some hesitation and with the cold starting to affect me, I headed towards my hostel to gain some much needed warmth and rest from the cold air outside. On my way back I passed various little markets selling all sorts of things from marzipan blocks to steins, it was a fantastic look into the local produce. Glass is a typical product of Prague and their abilities in hand blowing is original and gifted. I bought some fresh fruit and headed back for a few hours, however not before I grabbed a sausage from one of the vendors. Okay here is a handy tip for you:- No matter how good they smell, how clean the stores look and how busy they may be……DON’T EAT THEM. Unless of course you want to have serious indigestion for the next week and not see anything more than the toilet seat!     I spent the night in my hostel chatting to the various travellers, who along with myself, found it a little too cold to venture into the night. It has always surprised me about the many interesting people you meet when travelling. From Canadians, Australians, Americans and Europeans – travelling has sure opened my eyes....

The Night Train from Zurich to Prague

By on Apr 30, 2011 in Switzerland | 2 comments

  After sleeping a few hours at Zurich station and dreaming of the brilliant experience I was about to have on my way to Prague, I awoke to the shouts of two backpackers being frog marched down the concourse by three Swiss officers, who seemed to be carrying a bag of drugs. I gathered my belongings and headed off to find my luxury high speed train to Prague, however I was gifted with a Russian mule. Many people would shudder at the thought, but I was ecstatic to being riding in this old stallion. I felt I was really leaving the creature comforts of the west behind. I boarded my train and met my travel companion for the night, Erika. Erika was a very petite Japanese photographer who travelled the world taking photographs for postcards; I personally thought she was a spy. We chatted for a while as we watched the station slide behind us and later learned we were the only tourists on-board bound for the East. It’s a night that I will never forget! We yanked down the window so that the whole cabin was literally thrown open to the outside world. Then we shared chocolate and sherbet lemons. We watched as the Swiss Alps slowly glided by capped by the light of the full moon. The fragrant scent of freshly cut grass from the many farms and the cool mountain air rushed past me. It’s a feeling I can even remember now when I close my eyes. Every stop we made, Erika and I would throw our heads out the window to talk to the conductors or maintenance men working their nights away.   Before our journey started out, our conductor advised us that both locks on our cabin door should be locked at all times and that if we needed to use the bathroom, to leave any valuables with him. He was a very trustworthy man… I hoped. I fell into the most serene sleep and awoke to the conductor knocking on our door to give us breakfast. The scenery had changed dramatically outside from the Swiss Alps to the dry barren woodlands of Eastern Europe. I parted ways with Erika at a small town in the Czech Republic and watched as she walked off into the unknown. I then continued on the rest of my four hour journey in the thoughts of independence and knowing that I could disappear right then and there, with no one knowing anything about it.   On the spur of the moment decision of coming to Prague I had no time to find out any information about this magical city. No guidebook, no idea of the language or currency. I was literally going in blind. All I knew was from the small bits I had seen over the years in brochures etc. I arrived into Prague at lunch time and caught the underground towards my hostel, feeling very worried about being mugged. A false perception I had gained about Eastern Europe. I checked into Miss Sophie’s and was blown away. This was more like a boutique hotel then a hostel and was cheaper than anywhere I stayed before. The beds were great and the shower heads were literally the size of dinner plates. The underground sitting area was funky and a great chill out location.   I spent my first afternoon in Prague at the National Museum taking in the history of Praha, as it is spelt in the local language. The Museum has a few good exhibitions however was mainly directed at geology. The staff were friendly and the location is great, it looked straight onto Wenceslas Square with fantastic views. Wenceslas Square is the heart of shopping in Prague and as I found out later in my journey, it is also the political heart for the freedom of the people. Prague so far was blowing my mind in every conceivable manner and I had great expectations for what tomorrow would bring! But if only I had not eaten that dodgy...